Judas or Mary?
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’
– John 12:1-9
We begin Holy Week in a suburb of Jerusalem with a startling contrast.
Mary uses no words and kneels at Jesus’ feet to break open expensive perfume. The smell of spikenard fills the room with a scent of jasmine and spice. It is her way of preparing for Jesus’ death.
Judas uses words to shame Mary. “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” It is his way of perpetuating his own greed.
Mary exhibits extraordinary generosity. Judas exhibits extraordinary selfishness. Mary gives without counting the cost. Judas only counts the cost.
Remember just how risky Mary’s actions are. Mary loosens her hair in a room full of men, which a woman never does. She pours perfume on Jesus’ feet, which is also not done. Then she touches him – a single woman rubbing a single man's feet – also not done, not even among friends. Then she wipes the perfume off with her hair – totally unacceptable! Mary risks everything in the name of love.
In contrast, remember how cunning Judas’ actions are. He pretends that he cares for the poor. He pretends that he is trying to keep things in order. Judas pretends he is only thinking about the future. He pretends to be a good steward of money. In the end Judas is only concerned about getting what he wants, anyway he can get it.
Mary worships Jesus at his feet. Judas worships himself and his pocketbook.
As we begin Holy Week, make an honest list of the ways in which you are Judas and the ways in which you are Mary.
Look within me to see my Judas; my cover-up of my selfishness with actions and words that look noble on the outside. I now admit those to you. (say your Judas list out loud)
Now bring out of me the ways that I am Mary, all the ways that I risk generosity and love. (say your Mary list out loud)
Both Judas and Mary are a part of me, O God. Keep me aware of the cunning of Judas and make me more like the loving Mary as I move through this week.
*in John 12:9, “You do not always have the poor with you, but you always have me,” Jesus is quoting the first part of Deuteronomy 15: 11: “Since there will always be poor in the land.” A Jew hearing this story would know the rest of Deuteronomy 15:11: “I therefore command you; Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”
Rev. Brent Barry is the lead pastor of NorthPark Presbyterian Church. Brent and NorthPark have a deep commitment to working with the poor and hungry in Dallas, helping those with Alzheimer’s disease, and reaching across religious and cultural lines to do their part to bring Dallas together as one.